The following is Human Rights in China’s English translation of the first half of the article, which focuses on Chen’s escape.
“Who Rescued Chen Guangcheng?”
By Tian Yusheng
First published on iSUN AFFAIRS, May 17, 2012
English translation by Human Rights in China with permission, May 17, 2012
On April 20, 2012, Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) climbed over the wall surrounding his home in Donshigu Village, Shandong Province, and hid in a neighbor’s pigsty until late that night. At 5 a.m. on April 21, Chen, covered in mud, went from Donshigu Village into Xishigu Village. A villager who ran into him took him to the home of Liu Yuancheng (劉元成), a Xishigu villager. Liu Yuancheng informed Chen Guangcheng’s older brother Chen Guangfu (陳光福) that Chen was there, and Chen Guangfu got in touch with Guo Yushan (郭玉閃), a scholar in Beijing. Pearl (珍珠), a netizen from Nanjing, was with Guo Yushan, and immediately drove to Shandong. At that time, Chen Guangcheng was being driven out of Linyi by Donshigu villager Chen Hua (陳華) to hide in Xintai, another city in Shandong. Early in the morning of April 23, Chen Guangcheng, Chen Guangfu, Pearl, and others met up in Xintai, and left immediately for Beijing. A whole week later, the authorities in Dongshigu began arresting people.
May in the countryside is filled with all the colors of spring. In the fields, one can see green wheat sprouts and the golden blossoms of canola in full bloom. Dongshigu, in the Yimeng region of Shandong Province, is an ordinary Chinese village. Unlike the rest, however, it is the village where Chen Guangcheng came from.
A blind peasant who taught himself law and helped villagers defend their rights, the well-known Lawyer Chen was named one of Linyi’s “Ten Newsmakers” by the local government. He also became a thorn in the side of the local government due to his rights defense activities and was imprisoned; then, after his release from prison, he was kept in prolonged confinement, cut off from the world. Yet Chen was able to escape from a home that had been sealed as an iron drum by the hundreds of guards surrounding it; he made his way to Beijing and into the U.S. Embassy, creating an inconceivable tale.
Yet Donshigu remains under tight surveillance even without Chen Guangcheng.
Running Day and Night
By April 20, 2012, Chen Guangcheng had been lying in bed for many days. Determined to flee his cage, he pretended to be ill in order to confuse the guards posted in the courtyard outside his home who had been keeping a close watch on him.
One can roughly map Chen Guangcheng’s escape from Donshigu Village and Linyi based on Chen Guangcheng’s own account from interviews and the descriptions from his family and villagers.
Unlike what has previously been circulated, Chen Guangcheng escaped on April 20 during the daytime. Chen climbed over the wall surrounding his home with the help of his wife, Yuan Weijing, taking advantage of the guards’ inattention.
Chen injured his leg when he fell going over the wall. He endured the pain and quickly felt his way to a neighbor’s pigsty, where he lay down and hid. This was a pre-arranged hiding place. He lay there for several hours, not moving a muscle, and used his ears to carefully distinguish the footsteps of the guards on patrol.
When there were no longer any sound around him, Chen Guangcheng determined that it would have to be late in the night. He left and felt his way to Meng River, which divides Dongshigu Village from Xishigu Village. Though this was the village where he grew up and the roads and the checkpoints were engraved in his mind like a map, this took Chen an entire night of limping, stumbling, rolling, crawling. For a blind man to avoid monitoring stations, move without a sound, and figure out his position entirely by feel, Chen Guangcheng accomplished the impossible.
The night also worked to Chen’s advantage. A blind person has a much more sensitive sense of hearing and can detect people around them much earlier than ordinary people. He stopped at any sound of movement, and would continue forward only when it fell absolutely silent. There is a bend in the river between Dongshigu and Xishigu where the water is shallow and the sand is even; Chen used to swim there as a child. The guards later determined that this is where Chen waded across the river. Consequently, after he escaped, they dispatched a car with two people to keep the area under tight surveillance. Chen later told his family that he walked the whole night, fell hundreds of times, and waded across a river, but at the end, he reached Xishigu Village by crossing a footbridge. Why did the guard at the footbridge not see him? Perhaps he’d fallen asleep.
Around 5 a.m. on April 21, Chen Guangcheng reached Xishigu Village, completely covered with mud. A villager who came across Chen took him to Liu Yuancheng’s home. In 2006, Liu, then 59, was detained and beaten by family planning officials when he minding his daughter’s home during Linyi’s Family Planning Storm campaign. Chen helped Liu defend his rights, and the two became friends.
Liu was shocked to see Chen Guangcheng and lost no time in hiding him away in his home. Liu then sent his wife to Dongshigu Village to inform Chen’s older brother Chen Guangfu. Chen Guangfu was not at home, so his wife Ren Zongju (任宗舉) was taken to Liu’s home to see Chen Guangcheng. Ren then contacted her husband, who was in Linyi. She was cautious and did not directly call his husband; instead she called a friend of her husband, then asked the friend to hand the cell phone to her husband and told him, “Guangcheng has escaped.”
A Grand Rescue by Ordinary People
When Chen Guangfu heard the news about the younger brother – the fifth son in his family – whom he had not seen for more than a year, he first felt not happiness but misgiving and fear. He could not believe that a blind man could escape from under such tight monitoring. “I first thought that they had deliberately let him escape, and then would cause a car accident during the escape so as to end the whole affair.” He was not the only one who thought this. When the news of Chen Guangchen’s escape circulated in the village a few days later, many also could not believe it either. “Everyone thought that Chen Guangcheng had been killed by the officials, and they just said that he fled,” a Mr. Su from Xishigu Village said. After Chen Guangfu confirmed the news of Chen’s escape, he immediately contacted Guo Yushan, a scholar in Beijing.
Guo was startled and also did not believe it, and repeatedly asked Chen to confirm it. Chen Guangfu told him that the news was true; his wife had already met with Chen Guangcheng. After discussing the situation, the two decided that Guo would send a car to bring Chen Guangcheng to Beijing.
Pearl, a netizen from Nanjing, was with Guo at the time, and she immediately began driving to Linyi.
Pearl reached Linyi on April 22. At that time Chen Guangcheng had been driven to Xintai, Shandong by Chen Hua, and was hidden in a safe place. Chen Hua is Dongshigu villager who lives close to Chen Guangcheng’s family. In 2006, he was so disgusted by the guards who kept tight surveillance on Chen Guangcheng that he fought with them and was detained for 10 days.
Chen Guangfu asked Chen Hua’s father, Chen Guangcun (陈光存), to take him to meet Pearl in Xintai, so he finally could see Chen Guangcheng.
Though it was the first time that he had seen his brother in over a year, Chen Guangfu did not have time to talk. He simply asked Pearl to leave with Chen Guangcheng immediately.
Up until April 26, when news began to spread that Chen Guangcheng had entered the U.S. Embassy, the guards in Dongshigu Village and those in and around Chen’s home still had not realized that Chen had fled.
The local government did not learn that Chen had escaped until a full week after it happened. Shuanghou Township head Zhang Jian (张健) led a team to Chen Guangcheng’s home, confirmed that Chen had escaped, and immediately placed Chen’s wife Yuan Weijing under surveillance. In the early morning of April 27, Chen Guangfu was taken into custody by the Yinan County Public Security Bureau Economic Investigation Brigade. He was beaten and put through a grueling interrogation on the details of Chen’s escape.
Chen Guangfu was grateful to the villagers who helped Chen escape; he claimed responsibility for what happened in an attempt to protect them. However, he quickly realized that the government had already gathered a good amount of information on the escape and caught all who were involved. Chen Hua and his father had been interrogated for two days and nights, and Liu Yuancheng and his wife had also been interrogated for two days and night. Even Zhang Shunxiang, who merely passed a message on to Chen Guangfu, had been taken into custody.
Chen Guangfu said, “although [the villagers] were terrified,” under ruthless repression from the government, “they were all able to step up and help at that critical moment.”
Chen Guangfu was sent home in the evening of April 29, after being interrogated for two days and three nights. He found that he was being treated to the Chen Guangcheng reception—he was forbidden to leave his home, and searchlights and surveillance cameras were mounted to the walls outside his home.
The “Blind Fifth Son” Monitored by Nearly a Hundred People
Dongshigu Village, only few kilometers away from the famed Menglianggu battlefield [site of the Menglianggu Campaign, fought between the KMT and the CPC in 1947 during Chinese Civil War], is located in the northern-most part of Shuanghou Township, Yinan County, Linyi, Shandong Province. Across Meng River to the north of Dongshigu Village is Xishigu Village in Duozhuang Township, Mengyin County.
Although it has been more than half of a month since Chen Guangcheng escaped, Dongshigu Village remains under heavy guarded. People and vehicles guard the main entrances and exits of Dongshigu Village—to the east, the road and bridge leading to National Route 205; to the southeast, the bridge connecting the neighboring Yazi Village; to the northwest, the footbridge connecting to Xishigu Village; to the southwest, the intersection leading to the Beijing-Shanghai Expressway, and even the bend of the river connecting the Dongshigu Village and the Xishigu Village; and the main entrance to the village, on its eastern side. In the afternoon of May 9, 2012, at least seven vehicles and 20 guards were found at the various checkpoints surrounding Dongshigu Village.
“Has the Blind Fifth Son run away? There are far fewer sentries.” Old Man Liu, a Donshigu villager, refers to the guards as “sentries.” According to villagers, there were around 100 guards in the whole village before Chen Guangcheng escaped, divided into two shifts watching him round-the-clock. There were four-to-five layers of blockades between Chen Guangcheng’s home and the outer perimeter of the village.
One woman is quite familiar with the procedure of entering the village as she frequently escorts guests to Dongshigu Village in her pedicab. IDs are checked at the village entrance, then non-Dongshigu villagers are asked why they are entering the village and whom they intend to see. Visitors are even followed into the home of the villager they are visiting. If visitors have accents or ID cards from somewhere else, the guards would question them even more rigorously, asking them to clarify their relationships with the villagers they are visiting. “Relative? How are they related to you?” “Friend? Whose friend? How do you know each other?” At times they would even ask the villagers to go to the gate meet their visitors.
There are at least three monitoring stations near Chen Guangcheng’s home. One of the stations is set up in the courtyard of Chen Guangcheng’s home. “Seven or eight people would just sit there, staring at Guangcheng’s house.”
The guards also installed cellular signal jammer and a large number of surveillance cameras in the village and around Chen Guangcheng’s house. A video that Chen Guangcheng’s wife Yuan Weijing secretly took during their house arrest showed that an electronic surveillance camera was installed on the wall of her home, pointed straight at the courtyard.
As for what the guards were assigned to do, one was to monitor Chen Guangcheng and his family and to keep them from contacting other villagers. Chen Guangcheng and Yuan Weijing were strictly prohibited from leaving their courtyard; Chen’s mother was allowed do some farm work or shop for basic necessities under the accompaniment of a guard. During that time, Chen Guangcheng and Yuan Weijing were repeatedly beaten by the guards. One of the other of the guards’ tasks was to obstruct outsiders. Since Chen Guangcheng was released from prison in 2010, many groups of friends and netizens had tried to visit him. However, they were all intercepted outside the village, and many of them were brutally beaten and robbed.
Some of the guards were Shuanghou Township government officials, according to the villagers, but the majority of them were underemployed workers in the township. “When we would ask where they were from, they would say that they were from a street away,” said Old Man Liu. According to him, the guards would go to Dongshigu Village every day to “work.” After a few years, he came to recognize all of them and would chat with some from time to time.
The pedicab biker once asked the guards how much they made. Everyone got paid 80 yuan a day, with meals sent regularly daily to guard posts from a canteen in Shuanghou County. “It was not 80 yuan; it was 100 yuan per person per day,” said Grandpa Han from the neighboring Quanqiao Village. He said that guarding Chen was a good job for the locals. The guards were all people from the county or township who connected to government officials. Almost no one was a local farmer from the surrounding villages. Old Man Liu and other Dongshigu villagers agreed: “None of the guards was from Dongshigu!”
There are about 150 families, nearly 500 people total, resident in Dongshigu Village. Most of them have gone elsewhere to work, leaving fewer than 200 people back home. The 100 or so guards from outside have almost taken over the village. One Dongshigu villager said, “The village has become their turf.”
Fellow Villager “Lawyer Chen”
Some have said that most people from Dongshigu Village and surrounding villages were hostile towards Chen. First, they believed Chen was a spy for the Americans. Second, his work making a stand to the government and defending rights caused a lot of trouble for the villagers.
But villagers from Dongshigu and neighboring area all denied such hostility. They said that the talk about conflict between Chen and the villagers was spread by guards pretending to be villagers.
According to a Mrs. Chen in Dongshigu Village, Chen has done a lot of good for people of Dongshigu and the neighboring area, and of course everyone stands together with Chen. Mr. Su from Xishigu Village said that, while the people fear the government, in their hearts they side with Chen. Mr Su said a number of people witnessed Chen’s escape to Xishigu Village that morning that it occurred, but nobody reported it to the government. Rather, they showed him the way and took him into their homes. Grandpa Han from Quanqiao Village put it bluntly, “He’s the Blind Fifth Son! He’s friends with the villagers – a lot of people like him. We fight the cadres!”
There was not even any enmity between Chen Guangcheng and the government official in the beginning. Both sides at the very least maintained the appearance of calm for quite a long period of time.